The Amanda Project

Designed by Happy Cog and launched today, The Amanda Project is a social media network, creative writing project, interactive game, and book series combined:

The Amanda Project is the story of Amanda Valentino, told through an interactive website and book series for readers aged 13 & up. On the website, readers are invited to become a part of the story as they help the main characters search for Amanda.

The writing-focused social media network is designed and written as if by characters from the Amanda novels, and encourages readers to enter the novel’s world by joining the search for Amanda, following clues and reading passages that exist only online, and ultimately helping to shape the course of the Amanda narrative across eight novels. (The first Amanda novel—Invisible I, written by Melissa Kantor—comes out 22 September.)

The site developed over a year of intense creative collaboration between Happy Cog and Fourth Story Media, a book publisher and new media company spearheaded by publishing whiz Lisa Holton. Prior to starting Fourth Story, Lisa was was President, Scholastic Trade Publishing and Book Fairs; managed the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; and oversaw development of The 39 Clues. Before that she spent nearly a decade developing numerous bestselling, franchise-launching series at Disney.

Happy Cog‘s New York office developed this project. The team:

Equally vital to the project’s success were Fourth Story’s leaders and partners, including:

  • Lorraine Shanley, Principal Advisor
  • Ariel Aberg-Riger (website, Twitter), Creative Development & Marketing Manager
  • JillEllyn Riley, Editorial Director
  • Dale Robbins, Creative Director
  • David Stack, Director, Digital Partnerships
  • Melissa Kantor, Writer
  • Peter Silsbee, Writer
  • Polly Kanevsky, Art Director
  • Sam Gerstenzang, Technology Consultant

Today’s launch is not the end of our relationship with Fourth Story Media. The Amanda Project will continue to evolve, and Happy Cog will remain an active partner in its direction and growth. We thank our brilliant collaborators and congratulate them on today’s milestone.

Read more

[tags]amanda, amandaproject, theamandaproject, TAP, happycog, design, webdesign, contentstrategy, userexperience, publishing, books, aarongustafson, lizdanzico, erinkissane, whitneyhess, mattgoldenberg, kellymccarthy, jasonsantamaria, jeffreyzeldman, lisaholton, dalerobbins, davidstack, JillEllynRiley, ArielAberg-Riger[/tags]

Brighter Planet beta

The Happy Cog-designed social network for Brighter Planet is now in public beta. Come on down and kick the tires. Brighter Planet helps you take control of your environmental footprint: measure your climate impact, discover simple ways to reduce it, track your progress, and share your experiences with other people who who want to make a difference.

Happy Cog‘s New York office developed this project. The team:

This truly collaborative project could not have been conceived or completed without the brilliant and generous work of Brighter Planet team members including:

  • CTO Adam Rubin (bio, blog, Twitter)
  • Co-founder and Product Design Director Andy Rossmeissl (Twitter, bio)
  • Senior Systems Engineer Seamus Abshere (bio)
  • Rails developer Rich Sturim (Twitter, bio)

Not only is this young, passionate team dedicated to reducing climate change and all things green, they are also marketing kingpins, shrewd user experience designers, and badass developers.

We love our clients. These folks and this project are dear to us. And it’s a fun way to make a difference. I hope you’ll check out Brighter Planet’s new beta social network.

[tags]brighterplanet, climatechange, beta, site, launch, launches, webdesign, projects, work, happycog[/tags]

20 signs you don’t want that web design project

Most clients are good clients, and some clients are great clients. But some jobs are just never going to work out well. Herewith, a few indicators that a project may be headed to the toilet. Guarantee: All incidents taken from life.

  1. Client asks who designed your website.
  2. Client shows you around the factory, introducing you to all his employees. Then, behind closed doors, tells you: “If you do a bad job with this website, I’m going to have to let these people go.”
  3. Client takes six months to respond to your proposal, but doesn’t change his due date.
  4. At beginning of get-acquainted meeting, client informs you that someone has just bought his company.
  5. Client, who manufactures Russian nesting dolls, demands to know how many Russian nesting doll sites you have designed.
  6. At meeting to which you have traveled at your own expense, client informs you that he doesn’t have a budget per se, but is open to “trading services.”
  7. Client can’t articulate a single desired user goal. He also can’t articulate a business strategy, an online strategy, a reason for the site’s existence, or a goal or metric for improving the website. In spite of all that, client has designed his own heavily detailed wireframes.
  8. As get-acquainted meeting is about to wrap, the guy at the end of the table, who has been quiet for an hour and 55 minutes, suddenly opens his mouth.
  9. Leaning forward intensely, client tells you he knows his current site “sucks” and admits quite frankly that he doesn’t know what to do about it. He asks how you would approach such a problem. As you begin to speak, he starts flipping through messages on his Blackberry.
  10. Client announces that he is a “vision guy,” and will not be involved in the “minutia” of designing the website. He announces that his employee, the client contact, will be “fully empowered” to approve each deliverable.
  11. On the eve of delivery, the previously uninvolved “vision guy” sends drawings of his idea of what the web layout should look like. These drawings have nothing to do with the user research you conducted, nor with the approved recommendations, nor with the approved wireframes, nor with the approved final design, nor with the approved final additional page layouts, nor with the approved HTML templates that you are now integrating into the CMS.
  12. Your favorite client, for whom you have done fine work in the past, gets a new boss.
  13. The client wants web 2.0 features but cannot articulate a business strategy or user goal.
  14. Shortly before you ship, the company fires your client. An overwhelmed assistant takes the delivery. The new site never launches. Two years later, a new person in your old client’s job emails you to invite you to redesign the site.
  15. Client sends a 40-page RFP, including committee-approved flow diagrams created in Microsoft Art.
  16. Client tells you he has conducted a usability study with his wife.
  17. Client begins first meeting by making a big show of telling you that you are the expert. You are in charge, he says: he will defer to you in all things, because you understand the web and he does not. (Trust your uncle Jeffrey: this man will micromanage every hair on the project’s head.)
  18. As approved, stripped-down “social networking web application” site is about to ship, a previously uninvolved marketing guy starts telling you, your client, and your client’s boss that the minimalist look “doesn’t knock me out.” A discussion of what the site’s 18-year-old users want, backed by research, does not dent the determination of the 52-year-old marketing guy to demand a rethink of the approved design to be more appealing to his aesthetic sensibility.
  19. While back-end work is finishing, client rethinks the architecture.
  20. Client wants the best. Once you tell him what the best costs, he asks if you can scale back. You craft a scaled-back proposal, but, without disclosing a budget or even hinting at what might be viable for him, the client asks if you can scale it down further. After you’ve put 40 hours into back-and-forth negotiation, client asks if you can’t design just the home page in Photoshop.

[tags]client services, client management, clients, agency, agencies, freelance, work, working, design, designing, designing life[/tags]

Housing Works launch

We call ourselves web designers, but sometimes we are more than that. Sometimes we get to participate, in however small a way, in something much larger and more important than ourselves.

Started in 1990 by four members of ACT UP, Housing Works helps people who are homeless and have HIV or AIDS. Housing Works not only saves lives, it restores dignity, purpose, and hope to those whom society has cast aside. Happy Cog is honored and humbled to have worked with this amazing organization and to announce the relaunch of the Housing Works website, redesigned by Happy Cog.

Our thanks to Housing Works’s Christopher Sealey and his team—we bow endlessly in your direction, sir. And my thanks and commendation to the amazing people at Happy Cog who did the work:

[tags]Housing Works, AIDS, HIV, homeless, homelessness, advocacy, hope, happycog, work[/tags]

Stick out your tongue

While employed at a famous New York advertising agency twenty years ago, a partner and I created a TV commercial touting an over-the-counter medicine client’s revolutionary new cold and flu remedy for young children.

Only when the shooting and shouting was over did we learn that the product did not, in fact, exist.

The commercial whose every creative detail we’d had to fight for was never going to run.

The client—the marketing side of a product development group—had a budget of $60,000 to spend. So they spent it, even though the R&D side of the product development group had not been able to deliver the product.

It was not a liquid medicine that needed to be measured. It was not a pill that needed to be chewed or swallowed. It was a pill that dissolved instantly on the tongue. Or would have been, if the engineers had been able to create it.

During weeks of presentation, the client rejected campaigns that would have caught the attention of the nation’s parents. The client bought a safe campaign that called less attention to itself, then set about systematically softening its edges. My partner and I wanted to cast like Fellini or Woody Allen. We brought in amazing children of various backgrounds, their faces rich in character. But the client picked cute blonde girls instead.

And so on. Every decision, however small, required approval. Everything was a fight. A ladies-and-gentlemanly fight. A fight that sounded like polite, mutually respectful discussion. A fight with invisible knives.

We won some and we lost some. For all the back-and-forth with the client, the resulting commercial wasn’t bad at all. The first few times anyone—even the guy delivering sandwiches—saw it, they laughed. Afterwards, they smiled. It could have been okay. It could have gotten my partner and me out of that agency and to a better one.

After the shoot was completed, the client told our account executive that the product did not exist and the commercial was never going to run.

The client had known this going in. So why didn’t they let us win more creative battles? Because they wanted something soft and safe to show the boss who had the power of life and death over their budget.

Why did the boss give them $60,000 to produce a commercial for a product that didn’t exist? Because that’s how corporations work. If they didn’t spend advertising dollars in 1988, they wouldn’t get ad dollars in 1989, when (in theory) they would finally have a product to advertise.

Governments, at least the ones I know of, work the same way. Since last night, the city of New York has been paving 34th Street in places it doesn’t need to be paved. Why do they do this? To justify the budget. In a better world, money set aside to pave streets that don’t need paving would be reassigned to something the city actually needs—like affordable housing, or medical care for poor or homeless people. But cities are corporations—that Mike Bloomberg is New York’s mayor merely confirms this—and few corporations are agile enough to rethink budgetary distributions on the basis of changing needs.

Last week, in an airport, on one of the inescapable widescreen TVs set to CNN (and always set to the wrong resolution) I saw a commercial for a revolutionary children’s medicine product that melts instantly on the tongue.

I guess they finally made it.

[tags]advertising, design, artdirection, writing, copywriting, TV, production, commercials, adverts, wisdom, work, experience, budgets, business, waste, government, medicine, OTC, overthecounter, newyork, nyc[/tags]